Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.

Kiu ’24: Creation, Not Discovery

“Who are you?”

“No, really, who are you?”

This was the first question I was asked in my first class at Brown, ENGL 0900: “Critical Reading and Writing,” taught by Professor of the Practice of English Robert Ward. I set out to discover the answer.

For most of us, the end of our high school years was marked by the onset of the pandemic. For others, it was our first or second year of college. The global catastrophe encompassed some of the most formative years of our lives, in which our sense of self was irrevocably altered. Some of us took time off for health reasons, others became caretakers of loved ones who had fallen sick and some spent this time in countries that had shut themselves off from the rest of the world. Precisely because of this uncertainty, we took life one day at a time. We turned to new interests to keep ourselves busy: knitting, baking, hiking, woodworking, making music. The pandemic turned us back into blank slates, ready to rediscover who we were.

Stepping foot in Providence for the first time in January 2021 after flying more than 3,000 miles alone from the United Kingdom, I was terrified. Months of minimal interaction with the people and world around me made me scared even to make eye contact with people I passed in the hallway, less a fear of infection than a fear of social rejection. How would I share parts of myself with others when I didn’t truly know who I was? I took classes in eight different departments during my first year, even contemplating concentrating in computer science — though I knew I wasn’t destined to study CS when I could not even figure out how to use Scratch, which describes itself as “the world’s largest coding community for children and a coding language with a simple visual interface.” I tried joining over 30 student clubs. I waited for some special moment, the epiphany that would strike me, when I would discover who I was and what I truly love and everything would fall neatly into place. It never did.


During sophomore year, I read something which described work by the German philosopher Peter Sloterdijk that has stuck with me ever since:

„Der Mensch, als ein lebenslang Übender, sich im Üben selbst erschafft.“

“The human, as a lifelong practitioner, creates themself through practice.”

It’s not about finding ourselves. It’s about creating ourselves, every day.

Creating, not discovering. Brown epitomizes this philosophy, teaching us to be lifelong practitioners. We select classes based on our own passions. And if none of the 80 concentrations offered strike your fancy, you can develop your own. Only at Brown do students graduate with independent concentrations like “Food and Culture”, “Studies of Death and Life” or “The Body: Trans Studies, Aesthetic Culture and Creative Practice.”

Crafting extends beyond our personal journeys, too. Brown is special in that our community is so collaborative, supportive, and loving. The care we have for each other is palpable. That’s why I chose Brown four years ago, and why I will always choose Brown. Brown community members come and go, but the care stays. I saw it in the alumni I spoke to when I was applying to Brown and I see it in my peers today.

I saw it the night before my first introductory chemistry midterm — CHEM 0330: “Equilibrium, Rate, and Structure,” for those of us who know and love it. That night, I panicked, realizing how much I still did not understand, despite spending hours poring over my notes. I texted someone in the same class who I had met only a week earlier, asking for help on a practice question. She called me via Zoom and spent three hours explaining the basics of quantum mechanics to me. I still did quite badly on that midterm, but I passed. For someone who cried before, during and after every one of the three exams in that class, I really did surprise myself by becoming a chemistry concentrator.

Whenever I think of my first experiences with chemistry, I think of the kindness my friend showed toward me. I think of the camaraderie that is so inherent to the Brown community. I think of the dining and custodial staff whom some of us have befriended. I think of Arlindo, who tells me about his weekend soccer outings with his 9-year-old son while cooking up the best omelets I’ve ever tasted. I think of taking TAPS 0220: “Persuasive Communication” with Distinguished Senior Lecturer in Theatre Arts and Performance Studies Barbara Tannenbaum and Adjunct Lecturer and CEO Cliff Dutton ’84, and of the many extra hours they spent with each of us outside of class to help us grow our confidence. I think of my peers, the student leaders who leave an indelible influence on their mentees and on this community. Engaging with all of these incredible, talented and, most of all, caring individuals has crafted me into the person I am and has motivated me to pursue the things I love. We don’t need a global catastrophe for us to create ourselves, to sculpt our impact on this world. Each interaction is an opportunity for us all to guide ourselves towards new directions, or to continue steadily along.

Every conversation we have with someone new, every time we put ourselves in a new environment, we sculpt who we want to be. The sixth floor of the Sciences Library is the meeting place for one of my favorite communities — people who love languages, and language-learning. Every Monday at 6 p.m., the space becomes a choir of excited voices as language open hours encourage strangers to converse in their native tongues. We move around from table to table, leading the conversation at one, learning a few phrases at another and just listening or watching at a third. People open their hearts to each other. I love teaching Cantonese and sharing the experiences of my childhood in Hong Kong — it’s a way to connect with the city I grew up in, one that I’ve had to leave in my parents’ permanent move to England. I love learning about loan words in Urdu from one of the most passionate language enthusiasts I have met. I love watching the camaraderie of the American Sign Language speakers who always stay past the hour to teach each other new phrases. The sixth floor of the Sciences Library is now part of me.

How will you create your place in this world? We’ve been fortunate enough to have gone to — and soon graduate from — Brown. We’ve learned from the countless brilliant minds and caring souls around us. How will you take the tools Brown has given us to sculpt your impact on this world?


In my last semester here, I took a class with Professor Ward again. I was, once again, asked “Who are you? No, really, who are you?” I’m a chemist who loves languages. I love to try new things. I still don’t know all of who I will become. But my time here has imbued me with the tools and confidence that I will use to craft the person I want to be.

“The human, as a lifelong practitioner, creates themself through practice.”

 So, I ask not “Who are you?” but rather, “How will you create yourself?” I can’t wait to see.

Selena Kiu is a graduating senior in Brown's class of 2024.

Get The Herald delivered to your inbox daily.


Powered by SNworks Solutions by The State News
All Content © 2024 The Brown Daily Herald, Inc.